Faithful discipleship always has the goal of growing to know, love, and follow Jesus together by His grace. According to both the commands and example of Scripture, this must begin in the home. As parents, our first priority in the mission of God is to faithfully make disciples of our own children. Because of this, one of the most common questions that arises is: "How can I know if my child has genuine faith?"
Christian parents may ask this question for a number of reasons, but one of the most common is because we want to faithfully lead our children to obey the commands of Jesus to believe the gospel, repent of sin, and be baptized as a declaration of the work of His Spirit in their lives. When God is working, who are we to stand in the way and say He isn't? We must guard against the temptation to withhold the assurance, comforts, and benefits of faith simply because we don't want to appear to be moving too quickly.
However, it's just as important to guard against the opposite temptation of giving our kids false hope. This often happens when a child dutifully and joyfully learns the lessons, repeats the words, and gets to work pleasing Mom and Dad. If we're not careful, moving too quickly can confuse a simple desire for affirmation in the home with a genuine relationship with Jesus, which sets a child up for confusion and doubt in the future and makes it all the more difficult for him/her to grasp the gospel at a heart level later in life.
So how can we guard against both of these temptations and lead our children to know, love, and follow Jesus with us by His grace? How do we know if our children have genuine faith? What should we do if we can't tell? What should we do if we can? These are the questions we hope to answer in the next few pages, but before we can do so, we need to understand 3 foundational realities:
What Faith Isn't
Every parent wants to believe the best about their child. Whether it's in sports, music, academics, or theater, we all desire our kids to excel. However, this innate parental desire can often blind us to the reality that our kids aren't as amazing as we may like to think. After all, most of us know "that guy" whose parents should have told him a decade ago that he couldn't sing and saved him a lot of embarrassment! What we need to understand is that this tendency is just as strong when evaluating their faith as it is when we're evaluating their jump shot, their intellect, their charm, or their chances of making it on American Idol. Because of this fact, it's important for us to be clear about what faith isn't.
What Faith Is
Identifying what faith isn't, though, is only half the battle. We must be on guard for counterfeits, but if we don't know what we're looking for, we'll never be able to cultivate genuine faith in our children. So what is faith? In the Bible, the closest we come to a simple definition of faith is found in Hebrews: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And without it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Heb. 11:1,6)
Coupled with the claims of Christ, the promises of God, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and the New Testament affirmation and application of the gospel, we can summarize Biblical Faith as the simple, certain persuasion that:
First, we must believe Jesus is real. We may find helpful lessons from fables, but what we will never find is true salvation. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."
Second, we must believe Jesus is right. Christ is all or He is nothing, and genuine faith requires that we surrender fully to His will, wisdom, word, and ways. While He openly invites all, Jesus is clear that we can only truly come if we are willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Mark 8:34).
Finally, we must believe Jesus is better. Genuine faith takes Jesus at His word and embraces Him...
What Faith Does
When we say that the goal of discipleship is to grow to know, love, and follow Jesus, it is because each of these elements is essential to a life of true faith. This is equally true whether someone is 8 years old or 70 years old. Yes, it may look different or be expressed in different words, but all of these must be present in those who believe Jesus is right, real, and better than anything else the world has to offer. In other words: knowing, loving, and following Jesus is what faith does, and where any of these are absent, there is no faith.
Faith Knows Jesus
The first evidence of genuine, Biblical faith is knowing Jesus truly. As parents discipling our kids toward baptism, we want to make sure they're able to:
Faith Loves Jesus
The second evidence of genuine, Biblical faith is loving Jesus deeply. As parents discipling our kids toward baptism, we want to make sure they are:
Faith Follows Jesus
The third evidence of genuine, Biblical faith is following Jesus faithfully. As parents discipling our kids toward baptism, we want to make sure they are:
With this foundation in place, we can now answer the important questions we asked at the beginning:
How do we know if our children have genuine faith?
Using the list of bullet points under "What Faith Does" as a checklist, prayerfully ask God to give you wisdom to be able to identify where your child is at. As you consider these things, praise God for where you see Him working. In the same way, plead with Him to do what only He can if some of these are still missing. Above all, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)
What should we do if we can't tell?
Continue praying that God will work through you to draw your child into a relationship with Him. Continue pursuing your child and shepherding his/her heart in a way that shows them the love and truth of Christ. And continue preaching the gospel in your home and living it out "so that in everything [you] may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." (Titus 2:10)
What should we do if we can?
If you're convinced your child does not yet believe, then you simply continue loving and pursuing them as above. However, if you're convinced God has given your child faith and brought him/her from death to life, having "delivered [them] from the domain of darkness and transferred [them] to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins," then it is your glorious privilege and solemn responsibility to shepherd your child in taking his/her first steps in faithful obedience! If that's you, we encourage you to contact your pastors and let them know how God is working so that your child can taste and see that the Lord is good as he/she experiences the joy of sharing God's grace with their words and their lives.
“Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matt. 19:14)